Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In Which All My Dreams Come True, Provided I Never Get Sick

So, here I am in ~California~, in the **~**Bay Area**~**. I am in my second week of orientation at seminary. Well, technically I am at seminary, though as an MA student I guess I am not really a seminarian – just surrounded by them.

My school is very progressive. A hundred years ago it was cheerfully educating women and Asian-Americans, back when ladybits and Asianness were widely considered obvious signs of inferiority as a human being. Today its population is over 50% queer-identified and extremely diverse, racially and religiously. Classes haven't started yet, but I'm already pretty sure that this is the best seminary in the world.

Last night we had an incredible worship service. Christians, pagans, Jews, and unaffiliated seekers gathered together to share a profoundly filling and calming experience of the divine. It was like nothing I've ever experienced before, and it was amazing.

I love the fact that I get to take very intellectual classes on things like Constructive Theology and Political Theology, and I also get to take part in worship and spiritual praxis. I love that I'll be learning heart-things as well as head-things. And I love the sunshine.

The other day someone asked me what I miss from home. I couldn't really think of anything. I miss my friends, obviously, but I'm making plenty of new ones so it's not as though I'm sitting alone crying for them. (Still love you guys, though!) One thing that occurred to me later is the NHS.

Oh, National Health Service. You are big, lumbering, and often inefficient. Sometimes you offend me. You seem to have a very nasty culture of silencing whistleblowers. Nobody would pretend that you are perfect; even so, as far as the blazing sun is above the feeblest anglerfish in the Mariana Trench, that's how far you are above the ridiculous US healthcare system.

I don't know if many USians understand just how absurd your healthcare system seems to an outsider. Let me explain:

You're in Britain, and you need a doctor. You're feeling peaky, or you need birth control, or your acne's flared up, or whatever. What do you do? You go see a doctor. Doctor treats you. If you need a prescription, you get your drugs – free if you're in Scotland or Wales, for a small sum (except for birth control) in England.

I'm not leaving any steps out. This is exactly what happens, from start to finish. It doesn't matter if you're unemployed. It doesn't matter if you're a taxpayer, a foreigner, a child. You see a doctor and you get treated.

This is normal for me. This is what I'm used to. Do you know how outrageous your system is to me? It literally would not seem out of place in a dystopian novel about an oppressive futuristic society that murders its citizens on a daily basis.

I'm in the US now, and I do have health insurance. If I need the doctor, I don't have a frickin' clue what I do. From the sound of things, my best bet is to fly home and get treated on the NHS.

Aside from the healthcare clusterfuck, I love everything about being here. I love the weather (obviously! I've been here ten days and I haven't been rained on once). I love that people are so friendly, and find my accent charming instead of weird. I love that the town is a lot like Camden. I love that I got to stand on the Golden Gate Bridge. I love my school. I love that I can look out of a classroom window and see a palm tree across the Bay. I love that, several times a day, I have to fight down the urge to lie on the ground kicking my heels and squeeing for joy.

I'm a grad student at a progressive seminary in California. What more could I want? (APART FROM UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE, SERIOUSLY, GET IT TOGETHER CONGRESS)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Golden State

Relocation of GCG HQ to the San Francisco Bay Area was successful!

Your regularly scheduled rantings will resume as soon as I have recovered sufficiently from jet lag, root beer overdose, general excitement etc. In the meantime, fill those empty days with Sporcle and the archives of Mark Reads. (He's done Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and almost all of His Dark Materials!)

Hugs and puppies xx

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Pursuit of Bootstrappyness

So I watched this movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, and it was pretty gross. I don't mean Trainspotting gross, or Saw LXIV gross. In fact it's directed strictly at middlebrow sensibilities, competently directed and well-acted, hitting all the predictable beats of your standard Oscar-nomination-getting story.

And it's precisely because a story like this is seen as so innocuous, such gloopy inoffensive awards-bait, that we need to talk about why it's so gross.

Will Smith plays a father and salesman who is struggling to make ends meet. He takes on a highly competitive unpaid internship at a stockbroker's, but when his baby mama walks out on him and their five-year-old son he's left destitute. His only hope is to be the bestest intern the stockbrokers have ever seen, so that they will choose him over the other 19 interns to get the paid position at the end of the six-month internship. Calamity piles on calamity, and before long Will Smith and his son are homeless and sleeping in public restrooms and homeless shelters – well, the son is sleeping; Will Smith studies by night, and, because he is a superhuman with no need for such mundanities as sleep, manages to be the bestest ever intern and win the job. Happyness: pursued, caught, skinned, barbecued, and eaten.

How is this narrative gross? Let me count the ways:

1. Harpyness

Thandie Newton plays Will Smith's girlfriend and the mother of their adorable moppet Jaden (well, he's Smith's moppet IRL). Newton gets to do exactly two things in this movie:

  1. shriek at Will Smith over his inability to pay the rent; and

  2. leave town, never to be heard from again.

Now, Newton's behavior toward Smith is actually pretty understandable. She's been working double shifts at her job, but they still can't make their payments because Smith is unable to sell the transmogrifiers he's invested in. Yelling at him isn't right or helpful, but I sympathize because I imagine she's under huge amounts of stress (especially since, as is implied later, she never particularly wanted to be a parent). However, I sympathize only because I have years of feminist deprogramming making me hypersensitive to any portrayal of a female character; the problem is, we never actually see her work problems or her stress (or her doing anything other than yelling at him, really) – and because the entire film is focalized through Smith's character, we see the ill fortune that dogs his honest attempts to sell his transmogrifiers, we see Newton not giving him a chance to explain before starting to shriek, and so your average filmgoer probably just thinks, “Damn, what a harpy.”

Personally, I'm fascinated by her story. It sounds as though she didn't want to be a mother, and only carried her pregnancy to term because of baby daddy's insistence. The story of a reluctant mother assailed by the mounting pressures of family and financial concerns until one day she can't take it anymore would be an original one for Hollywood, at least if it were told sympathetically; but, no, the concept that a mother might find something in life more important than motherhood is just too radical for our Extreme Leftist Hollywood.

2. Crappyness

These characters are working class. I know you don't use that term in America, but they are. They live from paycheck to paycheck; perhaps at the beginning of the film they are hovering on or just above the poverty line, but as it goes on they slump into undeniable poverty. A combination of accumulated parking tickets, unsympathetic landlords, and the ultimate evil that is TAXES leave our protagonist utterly destitute. He and his boy have to go live in a homeless shelter; with no income at all, Smith has to pretend to all the high-flying stockbrokers that everything is just swell and dandy.

(Now I'm thinking about it, how does he pay his son's daycare fees during their homeless period? Surely the $25 from donating blood would go toward food and bus fares.)

The rich white people treat poor black Will Smith like dirt. They make him fetch their coffees and donuts, they make him park their cars, they generally treat him like their darkie servant. And yet the film feels no need to make any comment on this racism. In fact, once Will Smith accepts an invitation to attend a football game with a very rich stockbroker and his creepily Aryan son, he manages to keep crawling on up until the rich white people accept him as one of them. Congratulations, poor black man! Because you did what the rich white people told you and swallowed their humiliations, you've been permitted to ascend to their level! If you lick their boots some more, maybe they'll let you join the whites-only country club! There's no critique of this system. The rich white people's position is presented as the ideal – as the happiness Will Smith's character is pursuing – and the fact that he's had to crawl on his belly and let them treat him with total indignity is a mere inconvenience. Suck it up, boy.

3. Bootstrappyness

Just as there's no critique of the racist aspects of Smith's ascent, there's no critique of the class system. A story like this is the ideal avenue to explore class inequity in America: rich people swan around to their boxes and golf courses, oblivious of the fact that right in front of their eyes are millions of people who can't afford basic amenities, who can't lend you $5. I'd like to see the story of Smith's character building relationships with the other poverty-stricken people around him, building solidarity with others who have been screwed over by a vastly unequal society. But he never engages with those around him in any way (except to fight another homeless guy for a place at the shelter). He's better than they are. Unlike them, he doesn't deserve to be here. He'll haul himself out of there by his bootstraps. He'll claw his way to the top of the system that screwed him.

The myth of the “American Dream” is that anyone can do anything. Will Smith's character even speechifies at his son to this effect: “Don't ever let somebody tell you you can't do something. Not even me. ...If you want something, go get it. Period.” But the vast, vast majority of people living paycheck-to-paycheck can't do anything they want. There are just too many obstacles, a whole system twisted against them. By only telling rags-to-riches stories – never acknowledging the inescapable poverty that is reality for millions – Hollywood is reinforcing the idea that the underdog can always win, that if you're still poor it's because you didn't try hard enough, you didn't want it hard enough, you didn't have enough grit and daring: that it's your own fault.

At the end of the movie, Will Smith and his son walk down the street in their nice new rich-person neighborhood. The houses are huge, the street is clean, and the shuffling hordes of the homeless, among whom they not so long ago were queuing desperately for a night's shelter, are nowhere to be seen. Out of sight, out of mind. You hauled yourself up by your bootstraps – they can darn well do the same.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Who Is A Woman?

In which I explore some long-stewing thoughts on my gender identity in relation to a question feminism hasn't been asking for about thirty years.

Who is a woman?

I have never in my life felt identified with some grand worldwide sisterhood or vague abstract conception of womanhood (my mother says the only time she has was when giving birth).

Who is a woman?

In her book Bossypants, Tina Fey describes a group of women being asked “When did you first know you were a woman?” and nearly all of them responding with an incident of harassment from men. I realized... I don't have an answer for that question. I've never felt particularly like a woman. Recently I found a diary from when I was 10 or 11; the bulk of it is spent complaining about how I just don't understand girls. Not much changed in my teens.

Who is a woman?

In our culture, male is still coded as default (witness the recent study about gender coding in children's books). Maybe my identification as “female” is merely an identification as “other”.

Who is a woman?

When I was 16, I rocked this androgynous look that got me asked a number of times “are you a boy or a girl?”. I feigned outrage when bragging to my friends about these incidents, but secretly I was delighted. Lately I've been feeling an urge to recapture that ambiguity. I'm deconstructing my every pose, accessory, and article of clothing for its cultural coding as M or F. The other day, a security guard called me “sir” and I was chuffed to bits.

Who is a woman?

The more I think about it, the more important it seems to deconstruct the gender binary, quit defining “male” and “female” as discrete categories, and consistently take account of trans*, intersex, and genderqueer people. Paul wrote, “there is no male and Christ Jesus”, and I think, with a prescience far beyond his own understanding, he's referring to a time when we no longer find it necessary to identify each other as such.

Who is a woman?

As a child, I often used to long to be a boy. Although I had long hair and was quite femmey (largely at my parents' behest), in the stories of my imagination I was often a boy. I can remember the thrill of stuffing all my hair up inside a baseball cap and pretending I was a boy. I can remember checking the authorship of all first-person novels I read to see if it was okay for a female writer to “pretend to be a boy” (Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing assured me it was). And I can remember feeling ashamed of this desire to experiment with my gender identity, feeling that I couldn't ask my parents for boy clothes and boy haircuts because those thing were For Boys and I was A Girl. (More on parental and societal gender policing in a few Fictioneerings' time.)

Who is a woman?

The other day I decided to fuck around with my gender presentation. I bound my breasts, wore a men's shirt and suspenders (that's braces for all of y'all Olde English linguistic imperialists), and drew on a 'stache. It made me feel empowered and sexy, with the thrill of transgression and queering. Am I maybe not a cis woman? Am I perhaps genderfluid, a little genderqueer?

Who is a woman?

I've always wondered how it is that trans* women know they're women. Of course I know they do know, but personally the only reason I know I'm a woman is because, when I was a child, I was told I was a girl (unlike my brothers, who were boys), and I got bigger. It doesn't seem like a very good reason.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Love The Haters

You know what's really, really hard? Loving your enemies.

It's such a pat phrase that I don't often really think about what it means. Circumstances don't currently compel me to spend time with people I don't like, so I find myself dismissing this commandment: “eh, don't really have any enemies.”

If there's one thing I've learned from this whole ugly riots mess, it's that I absolutely do. And I've been able to codify something about myself that makes me feel a little weird:

I have a lot more sympathy for people whose actions repel me than for people whose words repel me.

I condemn the rioters' actions while seeking to understand their point of view. Good job me. Top marks on loving your enemy right there. But the people who are saying horrible things about the rioters, impugning their humanity and calling for mass murder (encasing them in concrete and unleashing polar bears on them are just two of the suggestions I've seen on Facebook)? I condemn them without even trying to understand their point of view.

Maybe it's because my hate-spewing Facebook-friends are mostly a lot like myself in terms of background and socioeconomic circumstances – heck, a few years ago (pre-SJ, pre-Christianity) I might well have been saying the same things myself – and the reason I'm lashing out at them is because I understand them too well, and I want to distance myself from the things I could all too easily see in myself.

So what does it mean to love your enemies?

Let's start with enemies. That is like a ridic melodramatic word in today's parlance. Obviously it means the people you find it hardest to love. For me personally, I think ideological opponents is probably a better term. The fantastic Christian Humanist blog recently linked this super-interesting article, which argues that a culture, liberalism has become insular and narrow-minded. It lacks the capacity for the generous appreciation of other points of view needed in a pluralistic society. That capacity is more likely to be found today among conservatives, particularly religious conservatives.”

That's a helluva thing. Now, I don't really consider myself a liberal – liberalism's a little far right for my tastes – but it's certainly closer to me than conservatism, and (without wanting to get into discussion of whether it's a valid or defensible statement) this bold, extremely questionable assertion has got me examining my beliefs more critically than ever before.

I have an unfortunate tendency to pride myself on my “generous appreciation of other points of view”. I'm constantly checking my privilege, trying to be super-duper politically correct, accounting for the multifarious effects of background and circumstance and identity politics. The only people whose point of view I don't try to understand?

Right-wingers. People who don't seem to care about social and economic justice. People whose politics are in direct opposition to mine.

The thing is, in my actual interpersonal relationships I am okay at this. I have friends who are conservatives. I dearly love certain people who are racist, sexist, heterosexist, etc. When I was a small child living far away from my biological grandparents, an older couple living in our neighborhood were surrogate grandparents to me and my brothers, and I vividly remember the shock of learning, years later, that they believed God made black people and white people separate and we should stay that way. It was the first time in my life I confronted head-on the truth that sometimes people you care about have really objectionable views, and it's a lesson I've had to keep on learning.

And yet it's easy to make exceptions and justifications for people you already know and love. When the people with objectionable views are mere words on a screen, it seems logical and right to put principles above people.

To really live a Christian life, though, means always putting the people above the principle. (Side note: one of the reasons I adore children's fantasy classic Silver on the Tree is because of its take on this issue.) It is possible to reject someone's objectionable views but still understand and love em. It has to be possible. That's what God does: God understands all of us completely, and God loves all of us completely, and God absolutely rejects injustice and hatred.

How does God do it? I don't friggin' know. That's why God's God, and I'm not. I do know that it's my duty as a human being to try as hard as I possibly can, and that as long as I live it's going to be really, really hard.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Final (I Hope) Words On The Rioters

You can attribute the riots to naked human greed, selfishness, and lust for violence. And you wouldn't be wrong.

You can also state that the cause of World War One was naked human greed, selfishness, and lust for violence. You can say that they were the cause of the Holocaust. Of British colonialism. Of genocide in Rwanda. Of every terrible thing humans have ever done.

And you would be right.

But – and this is history 101 – obviously they're not the only cause. Because, if they were, riots and World War One and genocide wouldn't be events to be commented upon, analyzed, and condemned. They would be happening nonstop. Brutality is latent in all of us, but humans as a group don't go round acting on this brutality without some kind of cause. Even if the cause is only opportunity without fear of the consequences (in which case, we should be asking why there is opportunity and why there is no fear of the consequences).

By blaming only the greed and selfishness of individuals, who are you helping? What are you achieving? You're not helping people who have lost everything to the awful arson and looting. You're not helping the people who feel powerless, disenfranchised, and angry. You're not helping the people who feel so disconnected from society that they think it's okay to smash shops and steal stuff and set buildings on fire. You're not helping the society that has failed to make these people feel a part of it.

And you're sure as shit not stopping this from happening again.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

London Riots, Media Narratives, "Scum"

I used to trust the media to tell me the truth, tell us the truth

But now I see the payoffs everywhere I look

Who do you trust when everyone's a crook?

Revolution calling...

--Queensrÿche, “Revolution Calling”

First of all, that is an awesome song off a seriously awesome record. Second of all, it is some cold hard TRUTH.

One of the things I love about social media is its ability to tell us what's really going on. The more I engage with the blogosphere, the more I understand how mainstream news sources are all skewed to a certain framework. It's not a great conspiracy; it's not even necessarily a bad thing – it's just that every part of the media has an agenda. Value-neutral example: earlier this year, when all the US news sources I follow were glued to the protests in Wisconsin, the only US-related item in the BBC evening news was coverage of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. That's because the BBC's agenda is to be the British Broadcasting Corporation, so it skews Britain-centric. What's important is to be aware of the skews and biases in the media you consume – and, ideally, to vary your news media diet enough that you can piece together a picture of the world by seeing it from different angles.

What's astonishing to me is how many people I know are uncritically consuming the mainstream media narrative of the London riots.

David Cameron has called them “criminality, pure and simple” and promised a tough response. An awful lot of people are being very vocal about their agreement with his rhetoric and his tactics.

For days now my Facebook feed has been flooded with snarling, reactionary calls for the protestors' blood. When I posted a request for people not to use the nasty, dehumanizing, highly prevalent term “scum”, I got a wealth of “but they ARE scum!” responses.

Now, I joined Facebook when I started university, so my Facebook friends are primarily people who are attending or have recently attended one of the world's highest-ranked universities – which is a nice way of saying that my friends are predominantly white and middle-class. And, as much as it sickens but doesn't really surprise me to see the awful violence spreading across England, I'm sickened but unsurprised to the same degree to see my Facebook friends spew hatred and violent rhetoric about the rioters.

I don't condone the violence. Obviously. But the braying self-righteousness of these responses is indicative of people who don't want to try to understand. They're not prepared to engage with the complexities at hand. They're not willing to examine the socioeconomic and political contributing factors. It seems to me that they just want to point the finger at looters and arsonists, declare their moral outrage, and sit back feeling smug that they would never act like those scum.

Well, how the fuck do you know that?

Youth unemployment is over 20%. Not everyone can get into a top university and rely on the mater and pater to support them financially (speaking, I hasten to add, as one who did and is doing exactly that). Not everyone can broadly trust the police to not kill them. Not everyone is white and middle-class. Who the hell are you to judge people “scum” when you haven't even tried to understand where they're coming from?

To you, it's just teenage hooligans embracing their greed and lust for violence. To you, it's just mindless criminality. Why not consider the decades of disenfranchisement and poverty, the long-term unemployment and feelings of hopelessness? Do those not factor in at all?

Read this article. Read the comments on this Shakesville piece. Try thinking critically about the narrative spoonfed you by the media-political complex. And chew on this for a second:

Though I'm a peace-loving, Jesus-loving, violence-condemning hippie radical of the far left, it's not the riots that are making me despair for humankind. It's you.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Oh, London

I may have grown up in Alabama and Kenya and Scotland; I may be about to move thousands of miles away; I may have spent only about 15% of my life there - but, if there's anywhere in the world I consider home, it's London.

London! The very name sets my heart beating faster. City of culture unparalleled. City of sprawling humanity. City of my life's significant moments. City full of my friends and relatives.

Oh, London. Looking on from the outside, I don't understand what is going on; but my heart is very much inside you, burning as you burn, breaking as you break. Plague and fire, 7/7 and Blitz: every threat you've outlived has left you shattered, yet stronger.

I'm afraid and I'm appalled. I can only pray that people will come to their senses. I can only pray that the ones I love will be safe. I can only pray that my beloved city will cope.

London, my London... Be strong. Have faith. Bear up. You are Neverwhere, you are Un Lun Dun, you are Mother London. You are London. There's nothing you can't face down.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Fictioneering #1: It Looked Like Spilt Milk

This is the book that made me a reader and a writer. Long before I learned to read, this was my favorite book and I knew it by heart. I'm going to spoil the shit out of it, so if you want to experience the finest picture book in the English language as it was meant to be experienced, hie thee to eBay, and don't read the rest of this post until you've enjoyed It Looked Like Spilt Milk in a pure, unsullied state.

So, let's talk spilt milk. The book, which I will describe in detail for those of you too Philistine or cash-strapped to follow my advice from the previous paragraph, is magnificent in its simplicity. On a uniform background of rich cyan blue appear white figures, alongside text that both identifies and unidentifies them: “Sometimes it looked like spilt milk. But it wasn't spilt milk.”

That's some proto-Magritte shit right there. If it looked like spilt milk, but it wasn't spilt milk, what the hell was it? A picture on the page, a shadow on the wall of the cave; ceci n'est pas un pipe (and, bearing in mind Freud's considerably greater credibility in literary theory than in psychoanalysis, does spilt milk not share the Freudian connotations of pipe?).

As the book progresses, the disorienting sense of deconstruction intensifies. The forms on the page shift – it looked like a rabbit, an ice cream cone, a great horned owl (my favorite, and my father still delights in mimicking my toddler's rendition of the words “great horned owl”) – but the unidentification remains constant: it wasn't, it wasn't, it wasn't, and before long the repetition, both verbal and visual, reduces all the forms to the abstract interplay of white on blue. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. (Following Iser's concept of blanks in the text allowing for reader-author interplay, it's particularly significant that it's the changing forms that are the white of the blank page whereas the unchanging background is inked-in blue.)

The book also provides an excellent introduction to the Derridean concept of différance (sorry, this is just getting Frencher and Frencher). In Derridean semiotics, to oversimplify appallingly, meaning lies in the relationship between signifier and signified; just so, in It Looked Like Spilt Milk, the story lies in the relationship between the signified (whatever it is that is the subject of the book, the repeatedly un-/misidentified “it”) and the assorted signifiers that are applied and then immediately disavowed.

In fact, as well as demonstrating the gulf between signifier and signified – between language and reality – the book can also be read as an affirmation of larger ineffables. What is “like” many things, but is not actually any of those things? Why, any great indescribable of human existence. Pictures, texts, music, art, creativity, love, very God.

In this instance, “It” is revealed as – have you guessed it? (if so, you're not a toddler) – “just a cloud in the sky”. From such mundanities comes the sublime: from words come texts, from ink come pictures, from a cloud come all the forms in this book. Free association with other things “in the sky” (pie, castles, Lucy) causes me to read the cloud as a symbol for the human imagination, and so to see the story as open-ended, inviting the reader to keep mutating the cloud, and thence the story, into every form ey can think of.

Furthermore, the book's title offers another affirmation of the human power of imagination. “Spilt Milk”, as well as being titular, is the only form to be repeated in the book, appearing both times in places of prominence as the first and last incarnations of the cloud. The trite lesson of “things aren't always what they seem” is deepened by the proverbial implications of “spilt milk”: what may initially appear disastrous may, with imagination, be construed as any number of exciting possibilities, and thus shouldn't be cried over. This story affirms not only the power of creativity but also the uniquely human concept of crisitunity.

“Amusing intellecrobatics,” you are perhaps thinking, “but it's still just a frickin' PICTURE BOOK.” Not so: it's a text that has been imprinted in my mind since before my skull was fully formed, and you can't carry that around without powerful ramifications. This, I insist with my tongue still half-out my cheek, is the book that first made me a fictioneer.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fictioneering: Introduction

I have been a book-lover for as long as I can remember. My big brother taught me to read when I was three, and I've had a book on the go ever since. In five years of prep school, my one and only “blob” (our punishment system – the opposite of a housepoint) was for reading a book in art class instead of helping to build the paper-maché volcano. In high school, my English teacher used to tease me about my shenanigans “behind the bike sheds with Horace” after he caught me reading Horace under the table. (I must be the only kid in the history of schools to get told off for reading poetry in an English class.) Book Mountain is the name I give to the piles of to-be-read books that accumulate on my floor once all the shelves are full.

I really, really love books.

It is un peu pretentious, peut-être bien sûr, but I like to consider myself a “fictioneer”. The fictioneer loves stories above all else in this world, reading and writing them obsessively, and living right inside fictional worlds, both of eir own creation and of others'. If you ask the fictioneer eir favorite book, you will get a breathless recommendation of dozens of titles and authors, and that won't be close to comprehensive.

But I think that every fictioneer can point to a number of books that are especially meaningful to em: the stories we read and reread in childhood and adolescence, lovingly revisiting them until the pages were tattered and the words imprinted in our memories. To a degree, these are the books that make us fictioneers, that shape our psyches and form the people we become. In this series I will be exploring a number of the books that are most intimately entwined with who I am.

These are not just the books that were special to me as a child. These are not just books that I read and reread (and reread and reread). These are not just books that made me weep, laugh, and gasp; these are not just books that played a crucial role in my psychological development. (There's no numbering the books that meet all of these criteria.)

These are the books that made me want to climb inside them and spend my life there. It's certainly no judgment on the books that don't qualify – Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is one of my all-time favorite books, but who wants to live in 1930s Mississippi? – and maybe I'll write about some of them another time; but this is the story of the books that consumed my dreams.

Last time I ran a series on this blog, I confined it to a single week. I think that was a mistake, because fatigue set in: the final piece shows a noticeable decline in quality and coherence of thought. So this series will be spread out, interspersed with regular posts. This also means there's no time limit and we can keep it going for as long as it goes. Yay!

Check back tomorrow for Fictioneering #1: It Looked Like Spilt Milk.

Monday, August 1, 2011